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Skubie's Blog 2014


Unbelievable numbers of Elephants at Ruaha.  You would never see such a huge herd in Kruger.

Latest News.
Finally made it to Ruaha!  We flew the aircraft up this week from Zanzibar, and we are now operational.  We have taken several Rangers for flights and are busily establishing ourselves.  More details below.

Please note: I have created a new page just for Ruaha operations, as this page is getting a bit unwieldy.  For latest news please go to the Ruaha 2014 page.

Skubie remains in Louis Trichardt until next year and is flying really well.  The leaky petrol tank has been fixed by Ant and his mechanic friend Korbus.  They have also fitted new
radiator cowls to cure the overheating issue that Skubie had, and now the temps are all well under control.  Ant has been an absolute saviour for us, and it would have been extremely difficult for us to operate at all, without him providing us with hangarage for free, and taking it upon himself to fix up Skubie and get him back in the air again.  We owe him big time!  Next year, we will be bringing Skubie to Tanzania via Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique, a journey of over 2000 miles, which will be an epic exercise in itself.  Ant and Norma have volunteered to be our ground support for the trip, which is fantastic, as Skubie is such a small aircraft, we can carry no spares at all, or indeed anyhthing, apart from ourselves.


The website for the conservation project we will be working for is now live and is well worth having a look at.  It is run by Dr. Trevor Jones, who has been absolutely indefatigable in helping to smooth the transition of our operation to Tanzania.  You can find more information here: http://www.stzelephants.org/ , and here: http://www.stzelephants.org/about-us/our-team/  where we have now been added to the team.

Anyhow, that's all for now but keep watching this space for further news.

Cheers,
Chuck & Annie

September 27th Saturday

Phew!  Finally in Ruaha and operational!  After the false start on Tuesday, when Adam, ZRP pilot and mechanic (who Cedrick insisted on sending along - turns out we really needed him), got a bad case of food poisoning, we finally took off on Wednesday morning.  On Monday night Adam turned down an invitation from me for a few beers in Stonetown, as he had been invited to dinner at a local friend's place.  It was "beer chicken" on the menu and I would argue that they didn't use enough beer!  Well, he was sure regretting that decision by Tuesday morning.  I saw him at 6 am in the sick bay at Zan International.  He was lying with a blanket over him in the foetal position and looked absolutely terrible.  

This of course was a disaster for our plans to depart around lunch time that day. I still had to do my checkout with Cedrick that morning on the Savannah, and that would go ahead, but the trip to Ruaha was canned, at first glance for a few days.  It was a testament to Adam's recuperative powers that he was in the flying school by that afternoon, flight planning, and announced that he would br OK to fly the following day.

Just to toy with me some more, it was raining heavily, as well, with some ominous clouds out towards the west, the direction we were going in.  However, we gave it an hour or so time to clear up, then packed the gear in the aircraft and got ready to depart.  We had flight planned 3.5 hours to Dodoma, (quite a long time without bladder relief), so I asked to be walked back to the terminal to the loo there, (as I didn't have a security pass).  Adam said, no problem just go behind the 44 gallon drums over there, indicating vaguely towards the runway.  Unfortunately, as I was standing there without a care in the world, a Boeing 777 taxied past.  Karibu (Welcome to) Zanzibar!  I smiled and waved....


Cruising at 8500 Ft, above the clouds from Zanzibar to Dodoma

We were ready to depart by 8 am, but so were about 5 other aircraft.  Scheduled traffic, 3 Cessna Caravans and 2 jets.  Hence, we were delayed for another 10 minutes, waiting on the ground before tower gave us clearance to taxi.  we finally lifted off, heavy with 6.5 hours of fuel and probably 40 kilos of bags, the prop clawing at the rapidly warming air.  Turning right off runway 18, after takeoff, we were soon over the impossibly turquoise Indian Ocean, with small islands and sandbanks below us, heading for the mainland 20 miles away.  The 3.5 hours passed surprisingly quickly, and because I had avoided coffee before the flight, I was perfectly comfortable and didn't feel the "urge" to go at all.

As we descended on the run into Dodoma, the clouds thinned out and the air got very bumpy.  The bumpy air preceded us all the way to Msembe, as we cruised along at FL 065 (6500 ft).  The clouds were just above us, with the result that the turbulence was quite bad under them.  When Msembe came up, an hour and 42 minutes later, surprisingly, the wind was calm.  We had been dreading yet another crosswind landing, but no, it was light and variable.  Afterwards, we learnt that Dodoma had a reputation of being windy.  No kidding!

I have done a few surveillance flights already, mostly flying along the river Ruaha, (from which the park named and also happens to be the Eastern boundary of the park). The first flight was with Dr Alex the park vet, who is a charming person and absolutely loves flying.  Then I took the warden flying the next day, and we did a boundary patrol, 120 K's, all along the river to the North Eastern boundary, where the Elephants were getting hammered by poaching.  We saw some large herds, but no unusual activity.  It was great to be finally back in the air again, doing something useful!




Early morning pre-flight at Msembe, Ruaha National Park

Our accommodation is at the tourist Bandas near the river from where we have an absolutely incredible view of the river, with tons of birdlife, Elephants, impalas and crocs, only a few hundred metres from us.  Of course, the downside is that all these animals wander through the Bandas after dark, so you can't walk around without an armed ranger.  Anne had an incredible day yesterday with Trevor & Jo when they went to observe Elephants.  They came across a young Bull Elephant which had been killed by Lions.  (there are a group of Lions here that specialise in hunting young Elephants which is unusual).  They probably got the taste for Elephant from some killed by poachers, and are targeting young Bull elephants who have been expelled from the herd, and are too small to defend themselves from a pack of lions.  

There were a pack of 5 Lions hanging around protecting their kill from vultures, two of which were a mating couple.  Anne got some great pictures and video.  Then, to cap off a glorious day, a young female leopard walked right past the Landy.  A highly unusual sighting, because leopards are normally nocturnal.  This of course, while I had the "boring" task of flying the park vet low level along the great Ruaha river!  Life is tough sometimes!



Lions at the Elephant carcass, a young mating pair (check out the mowhawk on the young male)

September 23rd Tuesday
 
I am back in Zanzibar again right now, and having trouble getting out.  Trevor, through a massive effort has secured us a temporary aircraft, given that the Kitfox hasn't managed to jump through the bureaucratic hoops in time.  Instead, we happen to have a Savannah light sport aircraft, from ZRP in Zanzibar, and I am here to get a checkout on it (yet another aircraft).  That makes 4 different aircraft that I have been checked out on since I have been here.  I'm getting kinda tired of it.  So, the plan was, get checked out on the aircraft Monday, fly up to Ruaha on Tuesday.  Trouble was, Monday was far too windy.  We got airborne, but the wind was gusting 25 kts and the air was too rough for instruction.  It was impossible to hold altitude or airspeed, just survival flying.  We landed after 15 minutes and counted ourselves lucky to be on the ground safely.  So scratch plan A.

Plan B was to have an early morning checkout Tuesday, followed by flight to Ruaha with Adam, who would be handling the navigation.  I got there at 6 am, only to find Adam flat on his back in the medical aid room at the airport with massive food poisoning!  Okay, scratch plan B.  I mean, what else could go wrong?  However, Later that morning I managed to get the check ride in and did well enough so that Cedrick was satisfied.  Another aircraft in the log book!

 

Yet another aircraft in the logbook.  That makes 4 different types this year!

After having seen Adam at the dispensary, I wasn't at all sure he would recover in a couple of days, let alone a couple of hours.  However, by 12 noon, he was there at the flight school again.  He still wasn't well enough to fly but he was doing the flight plan for tomorrow.  So that now is plan C.  Tomorrow, we get to the airfield around 6, and plan to leave around 7 am.  About 3 hours to Dodoma, then another hour or so to Msembe airfield in Ruaha National Park.  OK, so thats the plan.  Stay tuned!


From Zanzibar to Msembe airfield, refueling at Dodoma  (Can't go through the Red bit!)



September 18th Thursday

I will explain later, but right now the plot has had so many twists & turns that we feel like we have just been in ten episodes of Game of Thrones (without the sex and violence)! Mind you, we are having trouble restraining ourselves about the "violence" bit.

We have had to make major changes to our plans 3 times in the last few days.  Are we going to Dar immediately?  Are we instead going back to Iringa?  Are we rather, remaining here at Udzungwa Park research center?  If going to Dar, we will stay with old friends from London who are now based there.  Hang on!  They are in London right now.  Shit! who can we stay with now?  Can't afford to spend on hotels...  No wait! It looks like a temporary replacement aircraft will arrive on the weekend in Iringa so it now looks like we will be both remaining at Udzungwa for a couple of days, scratch Dar and then heading back to Iringa on Friday.  Cancel trip to, and accommodation in Dar!

Stay tuned....  

Meanwhile, we went to visit Magombero Forest yesterday, which is a one hour cycle ride away, to do some birdwatching.  We went with a guide from Hondo Hondo (http://www.udzungwaforestcamp.com/) tented camp, called Emmanual, who certainly knew his birds well.  Also, we saw some Red headed Colobus monkeys in the forest canopy.  The red hair was so prominent that they looked like they were wearing some of those fake, novelty Scottish "Tam o shanters" with red wig attached!  Trouble is, we were so involved in the forest that we set of for home far too late, around 6 pm, so it was a mad dash through forest and cane fields, culminating in hooning through a local village in total darkness, without lights (both the village and the bikes!), literally feeling our way home.   On the home stretch, we could see thousands of glow worms flashing in the darkness.  It was fully dark when we got back.  


Udzungwa National Park in the fading light


Red headed Colobus monkey in the forest canopy.  "Whoats that yer say Jimmey?  Are ye after a wee Glasgee kiss?"



Anne the birder in the twilight

Luckily we had organised dinner at Hondo Hondo that night.  (Eating out options here are severely limited!), and, for joy for joy, they agreed to make us pizzas.  This proved a very welcome antidote to the 15 different ways we had been preparing beans for the past two weeks!  The Hondo Hondo land rover was broken down (what else?), so they organised two motor cyclists to take us home.  It was a surprisingly pleasant way to travel, through the cane fields in the cool of the night, back to the research station.  We wished the trip was longer than the 3 or so kilometers, so pleasant was it put putting in the dark....

September 14th Sunday
 
There may finally be some movement at the station.  We have some indication that the registration of the aircraft, the certificate of air-worthiness and my flying license may all be available soon.  Hence we may be off back to Dar Es Salaam midway through the coming week.  We have some friends we can stay with there so we can wait out the week or so (hopefully), that it will take for all these things to come to fruition.  It has been an incredibly frustrating exercise, (someday I will write a chapter & verse - you won't believe it!), but we hope that soon we will be able to deliver the aircraft to Ruaha, so we can start the survey work we came here to do.

Meanwhile, we are keeping busy.  Anne is getting on splendidly with her Elephant identification, (which is a lot more complicated than you would think), and we have also put together a tourist walking trail that will benefit a local village.  We have had to become even more inventive with our cooking, as the list of ingredients available from the local market is extremely limited.  Mind you, what is available is usually of verhey good quality.  Fresh, shelled peas for example.  Ruinously expensive in France, are extremely cheap here, and the tomatoes are beautiful.  Wine of course, is in extremely limited supply, you have to go to the local "Big Smoke" of Ruaha (no relation to the park), and even then, after two visits and three bottles of wine, we have just about exhausted supplies.  Luckily the local "Twiga" Hotel has just stocked up!


More African ingenuity.  Those are car wheel hubs being used as charcoal grates to hold the wok frying chips.  Simple & brilliant.

September 6th Saturday
 
There have been some strange noises in the night around the research centre here at Udzungwa lately.  By that, I do not mean the Muslim call to prayer at 4 am, or the local Apostelic Church service beginning at 5 am with a full two hours of hymns and fire & brimstone sermons. (I did ask why they felt the need to have services at 5 am, and was told that the congregants start work at 7, so they had to do the service before then).  So no, I mean the even stranger manic drumming we heard at around 2 am followed by shrieks moans and groans.  After some detective work, we ascertained that these were in fact exorcisms, and that they were all of women.  As a precaution, Anne and Jo (Trevor's new research assistant) were warned not to go near the place where it was happening, as they were women, and it was well known that women are more "feeble minded" than men (hey, don't shoot the messenger! - I'm just reporting what I was told), and that the exorcised "Devil" might just jump into them if they were nearby.  I jokingly pointed out that this may already have happened... Ouch!  I am now walking with a pronounced limp.  L-I-M-P, pronounced.... Oh, never mind....


Anne with the sign pointing to the UEMC (Udzungwa Ecological Monitoring Centre) research centre where we are staying.

 

This is a local dish, called a "Rolex"  It's an omelette rolled up with a Chapati...
"It's Chapati and I'll fry if I want to.."


September 4th Thursday
 
We have been here for a few days now and staying at the UEMC Research centre.  Not luxurious, but basic & clean accommodation.  There are a few other researchers here and we met some from Italy, Flavio and Sylvie.  Strictly speaking, Flavio was not a researcher, but an Architect who was working on the new visitor centre.  He and Sylvie were having dinner at the Twig hotel just across the road when we arrived one night,  We had decided on a night out for a change.  The Twiga is famous in the local area for it's amazingly slow service and indeed, it is spectacular (not).  Flavio had an unexpectedly dry sense of humour, and when I suggested that we should order some more Chapatis, he observed that he would never get to eat them since he had a bus to catch at 5 am the next day.  Surprisingly, they arrived fairly soon, well in time for him to catch his bus!  He went on about his initial reservations of getting the visitor centre built at all, and waking up in a sweat at night.  He kept saying that he just wanted the walls to be straight!  

As I have said before, it is fairly basic here.  Last night we went to the Twiga (Swahili for Giraffe) Hotel again and they informed us that they had run out of red wine.  Since the only people who had been going there for the past 5 days were Anne & myself, the finger of suspicion was pointed immediately at us, (well me actually - since I had spent more time there than Anne).  So beer it was then!  

The local hotels by the way,  go by some interesting and evocative names.  For instance, there was the "New  Linas" hotel, which, considering the state it was in, makes you wonder what the "Old Linas" hotel must have looked like.  Then there was the "Half London" hotel, which again, left you longing to see what possible extra amenities the "Full London" might have had.  Every day is a new discovery.... :)


At the market, Anne & BK (Trev's Landrover "Fundi")  "Fundi" is Swahili for expert.

For the first few days we had no fridge.  The light went on when you opened the door, but the food refused to get cold.  I suppose we should have been grateful for the light, at least it enabled us to see which item of food was causing the smell.  Hence, we went to the local village nearly every day to buy fresh vegetables and, well, just fresh vegetables really; since there was very little else on offer.  Certainly not any wine, (which explains my frequent visits to the Twiga Hotel above).  The local market is charming, a warren of narrow little paths with stalls on either side, and the vegetables are lovely and fresh.  It has acres of beans, of all shapes and sizes; beans forming a large part of the local diet.  The road to the village is charmingly rural, which means that it is unpaved, with huge dips and potholes everywhere.  The only local vehicles that are able to negotiate it are motorbikes, and they are used to transport everything. Chicken coops, a complete (un-assembled 4 poster double bed), and entire families.  Double beds, I might add, are just about the only item of furniture being manufactured in the village.  There must be a run on marriages at the moment....


The highest waterfall in the park 170 metres, high, over 500 ft.


and the view from the top...


August 30th Saturday
 
Sanje Mangabey monkeys were only discovered in 1979, and they are endemic to Udzungwa National Park in Tanzania.  They were only discovered because a researcher stumbled into a village where one was kept as a pet.  The "owner" made identification of this entirely new species of monkey even more difficult because he had shaved the monkey's head on the top, thus making him look like an an old man..   (If you look at the photo, he looks like an old man anyway, even without the shave job!).  We are having a few days off here, in between waiting for things to happen with the aircraft.  Though we are here with Trevor's researchers, when we visit the park, we have to do so as private tourists; and the park is certainly worth visiting!  There are many species of animals, birds and insects which are only found here in the 10,000 sq km's of the reserve.  Nowhere else in the world.  It contains 11 species of primates alone.  When you realise that the whole of South Africa contains only 3 species of primates, you start to get a picture of how incredibly diverse this small park is.  But, back to the Mangabeys....


The endangered Sanje Mangabey monkey.  Does look a bit like an old man...

If you want to view the Mangabeys, you have to arrive early, 7 am at the main gate.  That is because the best viewing opportunities are in the morning.  Also, a team of rangers is already out there tracking them, for your viewing pleasure.  They are famously shy and hard to view, because they disappear at the slightest disturbance.  However, there are a group of habituated monkeys that are now used to having humans around.  They don't hang around very long, I might add, but at least they don't run away immediately.  The viewings are conducted in a similar manner to viewing the Mountain Gorillas in Uganda.  The rangers start off before dawn to locate them, and then you, long with your guide are guided to them.  Sometimes, they cannot be located, and then unfortunately, you don't get to see them, though you will have the benefit of a 4 to 5 hour walk through the steamy jungle.

The day we went wasn't promising at all.  We woke up to showers and a lowering sky.  The sun refused to break through and we trudged along on the forest floor, not even being able to use the camera properly because it was too dark.  Along the way, our guide Nick pointed out interesting plants, butterflies and birds, and we came across groups of Red Colobus monkeys screeching at us from the branches high above.  There were Black and White Colobus monkeys too, along with Sykes monkeys and Vervets.  Our guide stopped at a large tree with giant buttress like roots, and these actually functioned the same way as "Flying Buttresses" in Gothic architecture, to help steady the tree on steep rocky soil.  When he motioned to us to keep quiet as he was going to try to communicate with the scouts searching for the monkeys, we though he would beat some secret code out on the tree trunk, but instead, he simply took out his mobile phone!  Ahh, the wonders of modern technology...


A somewhat unflattering shot of a baby Mangabey

Eventually, out  of the soggy gloom, a figure in green combat uniform emerged, wearing, incongruously, bright green wellies.  He was one of the rangers who had been up since before dawn tracking the monkeys.  After being somewhat tired since we had had an extremely stiff climb just getting to this spot, we were led on an even stiffer climb, totally off the beaten track, up what appeared to be near vertical terrain.  It was slippery, exhausting stuff, as the rain had continued to fall, so the ground underneath was turning to mud. However, we eventually emerged onto a little plateau of tangled undergrowth, and suddenly the monkeys were all around us.  

It was a surreal experience, stumbling around in the soggy gloom following these little monkeys about, but quite incredible for all that.  When you realise that no-one knew these monkeys even existed before 1979, and that there are probably only a few hundred in this particular forest and , this is the only place on the planet where you can find them.  It really was too dark for photography so we had to contend with just using our eyes, but their curious facial hair really stood out.  They even ventured down onto the ground around us (as mentioned before, they were habituated, the "wild" ones would never do that), and started hunting for insects.  (Apparently its fruit in the forest canopy in the morning and insects on the forest floor in the afternoon).  All too soon our allotted hour was up and we started heading back down again.  On the way down, we broke out into the sunshine again and realised that we had been wandering around in our own personal little cloud.  


A Sykes Monkey (Samango in South Africa), but these are smaller and have reddish fur on their backs

On the way down, in the newly minted sunshine, we saw Red Colubus monkeys and Black and white Colubus monkeys.  The red colubus were literally leaping from tree to tree, in what appeared to be suicidal attempts.  They would climb to the highest branches, up to 200 feet off the ground, then launch themselves out and down, like little sky divers towards the tree next door.  After about 50 feet of freefall they would grab a branch as they were falling past it and stop their fall.  It was quite a performance!  There were perhaps 20 or so in the group and one by one they would launch themselves out and accross. Even mothers with babies hanging on would cross the same way.  We shuddered to think what would happen if they failed to catch hold of that branch on the way down.


Black & White Colobus monkey

It is not just certain mammals, but many birds that can be only be found here in these mountains.  The silver cheeked Hornbill with its massive white casque, and the Trumpeter Hornbill to mention a few.  There are more than 250 species of birds in the park alone, so one would think that it would be a bird watcher's paradise.  Unfortunately, thick jungle doesn't help with viewing birds, because some tree or other always seems to get in the way.  You can certainly hear the birds, and our guide could identify them just by their calls, but trying to actually see them.....


A Silver Cheeked Hornbill


A Crowned Hornbill with (someone else's) chick.  And its not taking care of it either!

All in all, a truly amazing park and well worth visiting.  It seems, out of all the National Parks we have been to in various African countries, Tanzania seems to have the best sights and the least crowds.  However, you do have to put up with somewhat basic infrastructure, (unless you pay stupid prices at upmarket lodges).  The wildlife experience however is second to none, and worth missing out on a few creature comforts.

August 23rd Saturday

After a period of waiting around outside of Iringa at Trevor's place (still awaiting Licensing and  C of A for the aircraft), we finally got the chance to visit Ruaha, the largest National Park in East Africa, where we will be spending most of our summers for the next few years (all being well!).   This was a lightening visit, mainly to check on the airfield and, more importantly, to meet with the Chief Warden, (who also happens to be the actual Chief!).  However, we still managed to see loads of wildlife that evening and the next morning before we left.

It is a 3 hour drive from Iringa to the main gate of the park, most of which is on dirt road.  Being the dry season, it was in pretty good condition though.   Almost immediately we stumbled upon an Elephant bachelor group of 7 or so.  Initially we thought they might be a female group, because there was a youngish calf with them, who normally would still be with the maternal herd, but after much discussion between Trev & his native helpers (in Swahili), it was decided that in fact, it was a bull group with a 10 year old calf which must have been just ejected from the herd, as is normal for young male elephants.


We encountered these guys just 500 metres from the main gate, just after entry into the park!

The Msembe base camp is only 15 k's from the main gate and along the way we got a glimpse of why this park is so special.  Not even inside the park proper, we had already seen a group of Elephants, almost within touching distance, plus whilst crossing a bridge we saw crocodiles, Hammerkops, a Bateleur eagle, Pied Kingfishers a variety of Heron's, a Fish Eagle and some Water Buck.  We also saw several Giraffes, a few Zebra and even a couple of Lions accross the river from the airstrip.  These last we saw with the aid of binoculars, but still, they were less than a kilometer away.  I shall have to keep an eye out when walking towards the aircraft parking area on a morning! After the 3 hour drive, (plus 30 minutes or so at the gate awaiting entry, we were a bit hungry, so called in at the ranger's canteen.  It reminded me a bit of an Outback Aussie pub, and I felt at home right away.  There was an eight ball pool table in the corner and a bar dispensing beer at ridiculously cheap prices, (about 70 cents per bottle), plus a kitchen with an extremely limited menu (you could have anything you want as long as it is Red Beans and rice!).  What more could you possibly want!


We also encountered this actual Zebra Crossing on the way to Msembe.

After a quick visit to the airfield to check out the hangarage facilities, and checking our bags at the cottages where we were staying,we went down to the river.  The Landy has a pop up roof so we all could stand and look out upon the amazing vistas before us.  Unlike Kruger, which is pretty flat and dry, (the only river being at the far north of the reserve at Crook's Corner); Ruaha has surrounding mountain ranges with substantial rivers running through, even in the dry season.  So not only are the sheer numbers of animals and birdlife a source of amazement, but the spectacular scenery in which they can be viewed.

We stopped on the side of the Ruaha river and were overwhelmed by the sheer number of species of birdlife (Ruaha has over 600 species of birds).  In the shallows there were all kinds of wading birds; various Storks, Saddle Billed, Yellow Billed, Maribou, Grey Herons and others, Pelican, Hammerkop, with their distinctive hammer shaped heads.  Plus African Skimmers, Lapwings, various Kingfishers; Fish Eagles of course, plus Martial Eagles, even Ground Hornbills on the far side of the river.  These last are getting so rare in Kruger that tourists are encouraged to report any sightings along with a GPS reference of where they were.  Here in Ruaha they are "common as muck", as they used to say 
in Yorkshire.  We even saw them within half a mile of the main camp at Msembe.


Yellow billed Storks perched in a tree top near the river

Crocs could be seen sunning themselves along the sandy banks of the river, and we even came upon a group of 10 to 12 Lionesses lazing about on one of the sandbanks, yawning and playfully pawing at each other.  A group of Hippos lay immersed in the water not far away, dozing away contentedly, secure in the knowledge that they weren't on anybodies menu.  It was a bucolic, peaceful pastoral scene, but in reality, it was anything but peaceful.  Those Impala grazing contentedly on the far banks of the river were on the menu for these dozing Lionesses (as indeed any passing tourist who managed to get separated from his vehicle), when the sun went down!


Just "Lion around"

Then around 6.00 pm, =, Trevor received a call and we headed back to the HQs.  We had not been able to meet with Chris, the Chief Warden that afternoon because he was in Iringa on business.  Unfortunately, he had to head back there early the next day, so this would be our only opportunity to meet with him.   had a very pleasant and constructive meeting.  He was a gracious and affable man and made us feel most welcome.  We are looking forward to working with him and his Food for vegetarians was somewhat limited at the canteen, and we had (you guessed it) red beans and rice again, except that (for joy for joy), they had some stir fried cabbage as well; though they were a bit stingy with the cabbage.  That night, we thought we were secure behind our mosquito netting, as we fell asleep to the cacophony of mosquitoes trying to find a way through.  It was mute testimony to their resourcefullness, that we both spent a sleepless night and woke with various red itchy bumps on our bodies.  We resolved to bring industrial quantities of mosquito repellant with us on our next trip!


These Hippos were not bothered at all by the Lionesses just 50 yards away!

Up early again the next morning, we headed back down to the river.  The river, if anything, was even more beautiful in the early morning light, and again, we were not dissapointed with the game viewing on offer.  After breakfast at the Ranger's canteen (a Chapati with a bananna rolled up inside it - delicious), we headed off for a brief look at our possible accomodation for when we are operating out of the park.  It was in a beautiful location, right on the banks of the river, and though it needed fixing up a bit, was perfectly adequate.  As the sun was getting higher, and we were still indulging in a bit of bird watching, I headed off 300 metres or so, through the cabins and back to the car to collect a hat.  On the way back, and totally oblivious, I walked right past a young bull Elephant which was raiding the trash for rotting fruit and vegetables.  When I got back, Trevor asked if I had seen the Elephant, then turned me around and showed me where I had just come from.  Sure enough, there he was.  It was the same Elephant we had seen the day before, raiding trash in another area of the camp, and we had nicknamed him "Taki Taki"; from Swahili, that roughly translates to "Bin Burgler".  Note to self, when wondering around, even in the "relative" safety of the camp, keep a bloody good lookout.  That could just as easily have been a Lion (not that a potentially annoyed young Elephant is any less dangerous).


Ruaha in early morning light

For a (very) brief visit to Ruaha, this was nothing less than spectacular.  We saw as much or more in one day, than in 2 or 3 days at Kruger.  It was literally bursting with game, and there was something to look at around every corner, with the added "attraction" of Elephants even wandering around your camp.  It was with great disappointment that we headed off back to Iringa at 11 am, but that was tempered by the fact that we knew we would be back soon, and for far longer! 


A Tawny Eagle surveys his domain in the early morning when the air is too cool and still to get airborne

August 19th Tuesday
 
A "Fundi" in Swahili means an expert.  There are Fundis in the building industry, Fundi mechanics, and in this case I sought out a computer Fundi.  The reason being that I had been struggling with a dodgy hard drive on my computer for the past year or so.  It kept developing bad sectors, but recently it had accumulated so many, especially around the boot sector that it refused to boot up any more.  I had managed to save most of the stuff off it, except one expenses spread sheet and (horror of horror), four of the latest episodes of "Game of Thrones".   So basically, all I needed was to install a new hard disk.

My "Fundi" arrived on time at our designated meeting point (The Neema Cafe in Iringa), and was called Boniface.  I explained what I needed and he duly headed off to secure a 500 Gigabyte disk drive for me.  A couple of hours later he was back, and within an hour my machine was up and running again.  Now all I have to do is load everything up again from my backups.  Impressive though, that even in a little "one horse" town in central Africa, you can get your computer mended in one morning!  So, I am back on the grid again.

August 17th  Sunday
 
Been in Iringa now a week, staying at Trevor's place.  Have been anxiously awaiting the results of my exam which I sat last Thursday.  They were supposed to have mrked the paper on Monday, but with the typical efficiency here, I only found out on Wednesday that I had passed.  Phew!  It was a close run thing, as the paper had changed quite markedly and I was operating with the old standards, rather than the latest stuff.  Still, I passed, just!  Which is the main thing.  Not a lot for us to do now except wait for the aircraft C of A for the Kitfox down in Zanzibar.  Hence we have been helping Trevor with his camera traps, which he has retrieved from their positions in the Ruaha National Park.

One was badly damaged, and we think it was due to an irritable lioness, which it had photographed in the previous frame.  Both the front and back of the camera was badly mangled with the back of the camera showing a perfectly round hole, the imprint of the lioness's fang.


The back of the camera showing hole due to the Lioness's gnasher...


The front of the camera doesn't look so good either!

The very last frame the camera took, with the guilty Lioness...

Sadly, it appears that my computer hard disk is on it's last legs.  I hve been trying to recover it so I can save some last minute stuff that I had done, but it doesn't want to co-operate.  Hence, I am off to Iring tomorrow with Trevor to try to find a replacement hard disk.  I have already saved most of the stuff on the hard drive, so am not too worried about lost data, but the question is, will Iringa have te requisite hardware?  It is only a small provincial town in central Africa, so the answer my be errr... Nope!

In the meantime, I am using Anne's computer but as she is spending a lot of time analysing photos, it is a bit difficult, especially with the solar power going in and out due to the exceptionally cloudy and windy weather we have been having lately!


August 10th  Sunday
 
I am writing this from Iringa on a beautiful Sunday morning.  It is lovely, peaceful & quiet here after the bustle of Zanzibar (and the hassle of the licensing process).  We sat out this morning on the porch, watching the birds drinking and washing in the three birdbaths strategically placed around the porch area.  There are many species of bird here though I have only seen Bulbuls, Cordon bleus and African buntings so far.  Went to see the local farmer this afternoon as he was having a barbecue, and took along some fried rice and a bottle of wine as our contribution.  A wonderful afternoon talking to various volunteers, living in Iringa and working with the local people.  Nice to be talking to people who would rather be helping the local community than making lots of money in New York.  I guess it all depends on your priorities.

Anne recounted the story of the drive up to Iringa from Dar es Salaam a week ago, where they had various misfortunes.  Firstly, they were picked up by the local constabulary, for no other reason than the fact that they were there.  There were a couple of female police women from hell, who proceeded to give them hell for unspecified reasons.  Whilst Trevor and his driver were out there remonstrating with the Police Woman, Anne snapped off a photo from the Landy, which earnt a stern rebuke.  If she took any more photos she would be in jail!


Who's been a naughty boy then?  leone, Trevor's driver hanging his head in shame even though he had done nothing wrong...

It was quite obvious that the local police were after some sort of paola, (because there was actually no need to pull the vehicle over), but Trevor, to his credit resisted and managed to talk his way out of it.

Then of course, the event all you Toyota freaks would love happened....  The Landy broke down!  No kidding!  Fan belt, of course.  No Landy journey is complete without something or other causing an issue.  So, a journey that should have taken 8 hours, took 13, while a replacement fan belt was sought and fitted.  Funnily enough, shortly after I arrived in Iringa at 8.35 am last Friday, I got a text from Anne, saying that she and Trev were going to be a bit late picking me up, because the Landy (again!), had an issue.  Something about having lost some bolts from the shock absorber attachments.  So here again, a short trip to pick me up and take me back to Trevor's place, something that should have taken an hour and a half took 6 hours, due to having to get the Landy fixed!

Still we are now back and ensconced at Trevor's place, with a wonderful private tent to sleep in, adjacent to his house.


"Once I had a tent in Africa...." - Imagine it spoken in a fake Scandinavian accent by Merryl Streep....

As mentioned previously, it is very peaceful out here.  No Cocks crowing at 3.30 am, (like in Zanzibar), and no prayers from the minarets at 4 am (like in Zanzibar).  In fact, you do not realise how much your sleep has been disrupted generally, until you come to a place which has perfect and total silence.  Nothing to hear at night except the rustling of the leaves, the occasional flapping of the tent and the call of the nightjars.

I get to find out about whether I passed the Tz flying theory exam tomorrow, so that is the only fly in the ointment, the only thing that is niggling away at me in this peaceful existence...  


A very happy lizard, (and an extremely unhappy wasp), after having caught this wasp at the bird bath....

African Ingenuity

I have been impressed with what the ordinary Africans have been able to do with very few resources.  One thing that most ordinary Africans do not have are bank accounts.  Yet they have figured out a way of transferring money from one side of the country to the other, by mobile phone.  And the best part is that it is very simple.  It is a system called MPESA, (at least the Vodaphone version is, there are others).  All you need is a mobile phone number and a pin number and voila!  You are ready to go.  You get a message on your phone, saying how much has been transferred, and then go to one of the many MPESA retailers around.  They charge you a small percentage of the amount as transfer fee, and the money ends up in your hands.  Very simple, very efficient and needs no bank account!  Another example of African ingenuity is in the photograph below.  See if you can guess what the things are in the picture below:


An example of African ingenuity.  See if you can guess what these are...

August 1st Friday
 
Finally got back into the air for the first time in a few weeks.  As part of the Tanzanian license, I had to get checked out on a Tz registered LSA aircraft, which sadly, wasn't the Kitfox as yet.  The kitfox, which STEP is buying in part ownership, does not yet have a Tz airworthyness certificate, so can't be flown.  However, I do need to have a successful checkride under my belt so that I can take it to the Tanzanian CAA on Thursday and have my license issued (aftar I have passed my PPL theory exam).  I also have to pass an English proficiency exam (another 100 USD), but that is another story.  Anyhow, I had a very pleasant hour and a half, flying around the tropical island of Zanzibar, doing some practice force landings onto some stunning beaches, in (yet another aircraft I will probably never fly again), the RANS Coyote.  I have so far flown 3 of these in the past 6 weeks.  Now that we have the Kitfox, there will be no need to fly the Bathawk up at Ruaha, but I may fly it to help PAMS out if necessary.

So, the plan is to get all this licensing stuff out of the way, then to fly commercial up to Iringa on Friday or Saturday to reunite with Annie, and wait out the certification process of the Kitfox.  We do not really know how long this will take, but at least another couple of weeks, maybe more.

Meanwhile, when not studying, I am wandering around Stone Town absorbing the unique African-Arab culture here.  THere are quite a few characters here you would find nowhere else!


Not sure if I would hire a car from this guy, though he does show refreshing honesty, if zero sign writing skills!


This is what happens when you hand over your mobile phone to a barman.  And I had only had one beer!  
The Zanzibar rooftops behind me, showing the Juxtaposition of Christianity and Islam in one shot.


July 30th Wednesday
 
Even the weather is conspiring against getting anything done today!  Woke up to lowering skies, gusty winds and heavy rain.  This of course, on the day that Dave, one of the other part owners of the Kitfox, was planning to fly down from Iringa in his Cessna 172 to have a look at the Kitfox, and generally chat with Cedricke about how the registering process is going (slowly!).  Still managed to get a few things done.  Put some laundry in, managed to scrounge together enough money from several ATM's to pay the hotel bill so far.  The other day, all the ATM's within walking distance ran out.  One broke down permanently, so today I was taking no chances.  Virtually none of the restaurants or hotels with restaurants take credit cards, except the most expensive ones, (of which there is only one).  After my scrounging this morning, there is only one ATM operational now.  The first night we arrived in Tanzania, Trevor advised us to take out a few Tz Shillings for spending money.  That "few" turned out to be 100,000Tsh!  (worth about 50 Eu).  I offloaded 563,000 Tsh just to pay for the hotel for the past week.  Beats having all that cash in your pocket!

Dave arrived out of the low scudding cloud around 1230.  Personally, I wouldn't have been flying, but he has the benefit of knowing  local conditions.  The cloudbase was still low and the visibility still dreadful, but he made it.  Kudos to him!  We had a good chat re the aircraft, and I sorted out a few things which I will need for the exam, which will (hopefully), be scheduled for Thursday 7th Aug.  Also, my check ride with Cedricke has been scheduled for Friday morning.  One more "brick in the wall", hopefully.

Then as the weather (which had never been good) deteriorated again, Dave dashed off to the tower to file a flight plan before taking off into the rapidly worsening gloop, headed for Dar es Salaam and Iringa.  I barely made it back to Cedricke's hangar before the heavens opened up again.

July 28th Monday
 
Much has happened, but even more has not happened!  I had been hoping to report more progress towards getting my Tz license, but apart from getting the medical out of the way, (so now two doctors in less than a month have pronounced me fit!), I am still not too far down the road of getting my license converted.  I do have some study materials which I borrowed from Cedricke, the chief instructor at ZRP flight school (http://english.zrp1.net/) , so I am busily stufying what appears to be the syllabus.  I say, "what appears" because I have had conflicting descriptions from TCAA (the aviation authorities) , ZRP and actual students who have done the exam recently, as to what the exam covers.  Also, they only do the exam in Dar Es Salaam once a week on Thursdays and I have been unable to register this Thursday because its the end of Ramadan and I can't get hold of the official who does the registering (or any other officials for that matter).  Hence will need to hang around in Zanzibar one more week.  This however, will give me more time to study.



The calls may be free, but can anybody spot one major hangup?

The other thing I was hoping to accomplish on the back of getting my license, was to fly the new aircraft that STEP has gone into part ownership with, the Kitfox (pictured below), back to Iringa.  This is a truly beautifully restored machine and just about brand new in all respects, but as a result, does not have an airworthiness certificate, and hence can't be registered until that happens.  As with just about everything I have found here, a "sense of urgency" within officialdom does not appear to exist.  "Hakuna Matata" (or no worries) seems to be the prevailing mantra, and we have been told that the process could take anything from a few weeks to a few months.  Therefore, I am not holding my breath while waiting for the registration, and am preparing to fly up to Iringa by airline as soon as I have my license, end of next week.  If, by some miracle, the aircraft is ready by then, I will fly it up, but I am not hopeful.



Almost brand new Kitfox in superb condition, purchased by STEP, which I am hoping to fly to Iringa from Zanzibar (assuming Rego is obtained in time)

As mentioned previously, Anne is already in Iringa helping Trevor with an aerial Elephant count from photos which were taken last year.  She is actually very good at this, as it is very similar to what we have done last year and this year, (and guess what the photos were taken with, yes indeed, a GOPRO!).  Hence, in absence of an aircraft to fly, I will head up to Iringa next week as well, and see what I can help out with.  Apart from that, I couldn't imagine a nicer place to be forced to study than Zanzibar.  Lovely climate, wonderful beach views and some very interesting spicy restaurants with Indian and Ethiopian spice notes.  Also, whilst the country is nominally Muslim, it is a very mild brand of Islam, with alcohol being freely available and even a truly superlative Caipirinha at the local Tapas bar!  Prices are not to bad, decent wine for 3 Euros a glass, and even the Caipirinha was only 3.50 Eu.  So all in all, a pleasant interlude.  Tomorrow, I'm off out to the airport as one of the other prospective owners is flying down from Iringa in his Cessna 172 to look at the Kitfox and talk to Cedricke.  I have a few questions for Cedricke myself regarding the exam syllabus, so it should be interesting!



Sunset in Dar, beautiful unspoilt beaches and clear tropical waters, just ripe for exploitation by big multi nationals!


Anne & Masai gate guardians at our hotel in Dar


July 17th Thursday
 
Fabled Zanzibar!  That emerald isle set like a jewel in the azure blue of the Indian Ocean. (Ok, OK, so I'm laying it on a bit thick!).  Originally an Arab outpost, long a centre of slave trading and the place where Livingstone set out from to explore the "Dark Continent"..  This was also where Stanley departed on his journey to deliver those immortal words, "Dr Livingstone I presume".  More prosaiclly, it featured in the 1941 film with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, "The Road to Zanzibar", which I remember watching as a child on TV, and thinking it hilariously funny.  Even though I am sure not a single scene was shot in Zanzibar, it made me yearn to visit the place.  So now I am going there next week.  Not as a tourist, but to visit the Flying school there to acquire my Tanzanian license.  After arriving in Dar es Salaam, Anne & I are going to part ways, she, heading off up to Iringa to help Trever, the director of STEP, with his researches, and me, to Zanzibar to get my Tz license, and also to get checked out on a Kitfox aircraft that Trevor will be a part owner in, and which I will be flying at Ruaha National Park.  In fact, if the sale comes together in time, I could be flying it up to Iringa from Zanzibar, which will be a helluva trip!


Stone town from the air

Meanwhile, we have been attending to more humdrum matters, such as getting our anti malaria pills.  This proved more difficult than we could have imagined.  You need to have a doctor's prescription to be able to buy them in the first place, and at our first attempt, the pharmacy didn't have the prescribed brand available, so we had to go back and get a new prescription, and were charged yet another 35 USD for the privilege!  Given that the doc had not even examined us and the whole process only took 10 minutes, we thought this was a bit rich.  We complained to the pharmacist about this, and I remarked that for another 10 bucks I could have had a circumcision as well (these were on the doctor's list of treatments at 450 Rand each).  The pharmacist appreciated this joke and said, yes, the process of buying anti malarial tablets was a pain in ass.  Yes, I said, but only if you didn't take them orally, as prescribed.  (queue drum roll!).

Anyhow, Skubie is now put away safely in Ant's hangar for the next couple of months, ready to fly again when we get back from Tanzania.  By the way, for those who don't know, Tanzania was originally Tanganyika, with Zanzibar a semi autonomous island on its own, until they decided to merge Tanganyika and Zanzibar in word as well as politics, giving Tanzania.  Personally, I prefer Tanganyika, its a lovely word.

July 12 th Saturday
 
Our time here in Louis Trichardt is coming to an end, and as usual, we are starting to run out of time to do stuff.  There was still the matter of the Bathawk checkout which I had to do before heading off to Tanzania, so on Thursday I hopped in the car and drove the 450 Km's to Nelspruit, where I had organised to do the checkout on Friday.  The Bathawk is the heavier brother of the Bantam microlight, and as such, requires a different license to fly.  (Frankly I don't understand all this licensing fuss, because the Bathawk is only 100 Kg's heavier at Max all up weight, which is just about impossible to notice when you are flying the aircraft).  Anyway, by the time I got to fly, it was near the middle of the day, and Nelspruit airport, being surrounded by hills, the air gets quite bumpy, plus we had quite a crosswind.  The aircraft certainly has plenty of power, but it was hard to gauge the handling characteristics with it being so turbulent.  It is quite susceptible to crosswinds though, and on the final landing, we almost got blown off the runway.  Still, the aircraft has so much power and the takeoff is so short, that if it all turns pear shaped, one can always hop back into the air again and try again!


The Bathawk and me

The Bathawk has fabulous visibility, and being open cockpit, it was like driving around an open topped sports car, in the air!  Great fun.  I am looking forward to flying it for real, over the Elephants and big game in Ruaha National Park, Tanzania.

I had allowed an extra day, just in case the check out took longer than expected, but as we were finished by 2 pm, I decided to save on the extra night's accommodation and head off back to Louis Trichardt.  The route was a glorious drive which took in the town of White River, then Grasskop, which is a cute little touristic town with coffee and curio shops, then the road wound around the edges of the Blyde River Canyon, (a sort of mini Grand Canyon).  By the time I passed through there, the sun was setting and it was a truly glorious sight.


Blyde River Canyon from the roadside



July 5th Saturday
 
We returned from Moyo on Wednesday morning, back to Louis Trichardt.  On the previous day, we had gone to Mapungubwe National Park again, just for the day, in order to connect with the natural world again.  Although we saw very little, it is a very beautiful area, and the scenery alone is breathtaking.  This time of year there is a lot of vegetation so a lot of places for animals to hide, hence the lack of sightings.  No Elephants, Lions or Leopards, even in our favourite Leopard tree, but we did see Zebra, Wildebeest and Giraffe. In the process, we managed to dent the rental car, backing out of the car park in the main entrance area.  6000 Rand worth of damage (600 $ US), so ouch!  However, our liability is $500 so at least that's the max we will pay.

Our next mission will be to look for Samango Monkeys again in the South Blouberg, which means "Blue Mountains" in Afrikaans.  It is a spectacular region, also famous as a climbing destination and the location of the "Moonshadow wall", a 300 meter vertical rock face.  However, our researcher for the trip is away at the moment, and won't be coming back till mid next week, so not a lot happening until then.  That leaves Sunday free for the Wimbledon final, Joker versus Federer.  With the "Fed" playing some decent tennis at the moment, it should be a good match!  Ant and Norma are having a few people around for a Wimbledon party to watch the finals, and Anne & I are on pizza making duties.  Should be fun!

One amazing thing we have discovered here in Louis Trichardt is the staggering array of vegetarian food available in the supermarkets.  This being, as we thought, a cultural backwater, and full of hunters and serious meat eaters; so imagine our shock and surprise when we found our favourite Quorn products, readily available in the local Supermarket. These being products which we cannot get in France, even Paris, except at dedicated English shops.  Yet here they are in the middle of nowhere!  Staggering!

June 29th Sunday
 
After we failed to find Elephants on the large property next door on a previous flight, Anne & I decided to try again, and include a game count of Moyo as well, to check Ian's figures, and also to try to locate some Giraffes we had missed off the count on Saturday.  Hard to imagine that you could miss such large animals, but there it is.  After having pretty much confirmed Ian's figures, we headed off to the much larger property next door.  We had no high hopes of finding anything because Ian & I had conducted a pretty thorough search yesterday.  Initially, all we saw was the Northern game fence which had been pushed over in various places, so we concluded the Elephants were probably gone. However, as we wended our way home, I was flying some lazy "S" patterns to try to cover as much ground as possible.  Out of the corner of my eye I noticed some large grey things.  "Elephants!"  I shouted into my mike, and Anne who was probably dozing in the back seat came alive.  We circled to our right and sure enough, there were 17 in the group, including one baby and another young one.  Further away we could see one large one which we took to be a Bull.  We were elated because we really had assumed the elephants had departed the area due to the owner allowing hunting on the property, so this was a great result!

We were quite high though, around 500 ft, and I was loathe to go lower as they were already getting agitated.  Even though Anne did not manage to get a really clear photo due to reflections from the windscreen, we decided to move on after a couple of orbits because the huge animals were getting upset and circling around the young ones.  Also, the big bull was coming over as well, so we decided to leave them alone to their grazing.


Success!  Our first Elephants from the air

Later that day, Ian took us for another nature walk.  In Reality, he just wanted to feed his (and Anne's) obsession with shit... Err sorry, Scat.  We wandered around, our eyes glued to the ground, looking for Black Backed Jackal scat.  We found quite a bit, which Ian studiously photographed, noted the GPS coords, sniffed and poked and stuck into plastic bags.  We also noticed that all of these err... deposits, (for want of a better word), had been laid next to a particular kind of bush which the Jackal obviously fancied.  We nicknamed this bush "George", for want of a better word.


Doing shit...

Even later that afternoon, Ant came in with his Wilga, generating a huge cloud of dust.  We invited him back to the tented camp for a quick cup of coffee.  It had to be quick, because due to mist on the ground in Louis Trichardt, he hadn't been able to get airborne till around 3.30, so didn't have a lot of time left before it began to get dark.  Back at the bar in the tented camp, Ian regaled him with stories of Jackal scats that he had bagged.  He is looking at setting up an internet database of animal scats, so people can send in their photos and detail their experiences with interesting animal scats that they have found.  It will be called www.faecesbook.com.  (shit! it already exists!  Have to think of a new name)


Talking shit.....



Shit Happens

Above is some fender damage we picked up in Mapungubwe National Park with the rental car (ouch!)




Who gives a shit!

(It was all too much for me....)



Ant preparing to take Skubie's older brother (the Wilga) home from Moyo...


June 28th Saturday

We are at Moyo Eco Lodge right now, after having arrived Thursday afternoon.  I flew Skubie up (which took about an hour), while Anne drove up in the Fiat 500 which we have hired for 10 Euros a day.  It was a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky and not too much turbulence.  The strip was a bit rough on landing because of the excessive rain they have had recently, but apart from a bit of a ridge halfway along, it was fine.  Anne rolled up only half an hour later so she must have been a bit lead footed!  As the main lodge is booked, we are in the tented camp, which, quite frankly, is still pretty luxurious.  The mornings here are glorious, with the piercing whistle of Francolins, incessant chatter of the Arrow Marked Babbler and whooping Hadeda Ibis.  Add to that the chatter of vervet monkey's and there is no mistaking the fact that you are in Africa.


Breakfast at the tented camp

We have done a couple of flights since arrival.  The first was to a neighbour's property just west of Moyo, where we expected to count some elephant.  However, after spending an hour or so patrolling up and down, we saw nothing except some fences that had been pushed flat by something very large, on the Northern boundary of the park.  Apparently, that lodge allows hunting, so perhaps the elephants, very wisely, decided to move on.  Later that afternoon, we went for a nature walk with Prof Gaigher (who runs Lajuma Research Centre http://www.lajuma.com/ ), and ended up comparing, of all things, scat, from various animals.  Purists will argue that you should refer to "dung" for herbivores, "scat" for meat eaters like leopards and hyena, and "faeces" for hominids and monkeys; however, scat is pretty well understood by everyone as a rather acceptable pseudonym for "shit".  Ian explained the origin of this much used expletive (and occasional noun), but we are not sure whether this is an urban legend or not.

Apparently, in the days of sail boats, and before the advent of modern chemical fertilisers, animal dung, or guano, or whatever was widely used as fertilizer.  This was commonly transported great distances in ships, and usually held below in the hold.  Nobody in those days knew of course that the noxious gas that accompanied these bags was highly inflammable Methane, so occasionally, an unsuspecting sailor would wander below for a quick smoke and blow himself, (and the boat), to kingdom come.  Eventually, the connection was made and the bags were stored higher, to stop the Methan pooling on the ground.  Hence instructions were painted on the bags to "Store High In Transit", which abbreviates to our much loved expletive.   Now I don't know if this is true or not, but it certainly makes for a good story!

PS, got to go now.  Vervet monkeys coming through the camp.  They will pinch anything not nailed down....

June 21st Saturday

Put Skubie's wings back on today and took him for a test fly.  Any time that an engine is left without full use for a while, there can be issues, but after a few initial hiccups, (as detailed below), which were very minor and after the wings were on, (always a tricky exercise due to the very tight fit of the wing bolts), and a quick engine run; we were ready to go.  Skubie performed flawlessly on the initial 30 minute test flight, and after that, I took Ant up for a quick flip around the field.  The water temp (which had been an issue last year), never strayed above 160F, even in the climb, (a testament to the new cowls that Ant had put on), the little Rotax ran like a Swiss watch. Also, no sign of that persistent fuel leak from the main tank that had dogged us all last year. The only things that are left to do, is safety wiring the new high pressure radiator cap, and the carbie air filters, as they could cause havoc if they came off in flight.  Being a pusher configuration, they would go crashing straight through the prop, with predictable results!

In fact, Ant tells a story about his friend Korbus who suffered from the above carbie air filter running through his prop in flight. Apparently he and Ant were flying in separate aircraft just North of the Soutpansberg mountains, when one of Korbus' (who was flying a trike), carburetor air filters went through the prop.  Immediate loss of power and extreme vibration due to the prop being chewed up by the air filter contacting the prop.  The aircraft was no longer flyable so Korbus looked for a spot for immediate landing.  Above, and was circling around on the radio.

"Korbus my boy, what is the problem?

"Shit!!  Carbie gone through the prop.  It's shaking the shit out of me and I have no power.  I must land".

So Korbus headed straight for the nearest clear spot of ground, forgetting however to check which direction the wind was coming from.  In fact, in his panic, he made the worst possible landing he could have done, down wind.  As he hit the ground the scene exploded in a mass of dust and tangled aircraft parts.

Ant, still circling above, and now very anxious was keying his mike frantically :

"Korbus my man, are you still there?"

After a few minutes of constant radio enquiry, the mangled mass on the ground below moved.  Suddenly, it erupted amid a cloud of dust and the humongous frame of Korbus, (who was, by the way, an enormous 6 foot cube of a man), staggered out, shook himself and waved.  Amazingly, he was whole and undamaged, but in the middle of completely inaccessible nowhere.  It took Ant three hours to eventually reach him.   

June 20h Friday

Now ensconced in Louis Trichardt at Ant Scott's place in Louis Trichardt, or Makhado as it has been renamed.  (Makhado was chief here around the same time as Louis Trichard rolled up).  Ant and Norma Scott have very kindly agreed to put up with us again while we get Skubie back in the air again after his long layoff.  We fixed a few minor issues with the aircraft, plus put some anti stone chip tape on the propellor to protect it from sand on the dirt strips.  Then we tried an engine run, which wasn't entirely successful.  The engine ran a bit rough so we decided to change the spark plugs.  They were due to be replaced anyway.  Around this time Ant showed up and volunteered to replace them, and also helped to hand start the engine as the battery was flat.  


Ant helping out with Skubie

This time there were no issues and the engine checked out fine.  Prior to the engine run, we had completely emptied the main tank, then refilled it with 10 Litres, to check out the fuel gauge which correctly read zero when the tank was empty, and 11 litres when the tank has 10 litres in it.  Reassuring to know that the gauge was accurate when nearing empty, as many aircraft (& cars) are not.  Tomorrow, we intend to put the wings on again and test fly.

We need to get the aircraft fully operational by next Thursday as we will be going up to Moyo again to do some animal counts.  After talking to Ian Ghaiger this morning, it seems that he will have permission from other landowners to fly further North from Moyo to do some Elephant counts up as far North as Mapungubwe.  He hopes to get permission to fly over Mapungubwe, the National Park itself to count the Elephants there.  If that is possible, it will be very exciting indeed. because such permission is not normally given.

June 17th Tuesday

Been busy chilling out in Jo'berg for the past few days.  Friday, I picked up my license at Rand airport from RAASA for the Bantam.  Yay!  It is a ghastly orange colour, and they managed to mangle my passport photo to give my hair a blue rinse, but at least I have it.  Anne has been in country since Tuesday, but she has been at the Hoogland Hydro resort doing a serious chill-out.  She came out of prison :o) Saturday, and since then we have been staying with Joan Cameron and husband Clyde and their two dogs, Toby and Amity. Not a lo report upon until we get to Louis Trichardt, as I don't want to report on everything minor that happens, aka Facebook, but one thing worth commenting on in Jo'berg is the serious anti crime measures that people employ to protect their homes, which are standard practice.  Not just high steel fences and bars on windows, but electric fences also.  See below:


Fort Knox or what?

Note from Anne

It always amazes me that no matter where I go to escape the world and its issues, I manage to find a sad environmental or conservation story. As I was  the only one on the 7am pre breakfast hike at Hoogland health Retreat most mornings, we usually ended up carrying out snare patrols, to protect the resident Eland, Zebra, Wildebeest and other smaller game. The poachers had been known to use up to 40 snares around watering holes and even to  build 'walls' of tree trunks with gaps in between, where snares could be placed, so daily checks were essential.  Having satisfied ourselves that all was well in the land of nod, we were free to wander the cliff sides, inhaling clean mountain air, whilst discussing the volcanic geology of the area and its multitude of plant life. One of the guides was like James on steroids, pontificating on all the local medicinal uses of the plants, most of which I could not even pronounce let alone remember. Why don't these people speak English!

However, our calm was to be interrupted, by the appearance of a very old Eland, whose trail we could easily follow due to the mass of diarrheal that followed in his wake. He was very thin and had clearly been outcast from the herd. Sadly without any predators who would have taken him out earlier, he was destined to suffer a slow and agonising death. We alerted Dr Kruger to the fact and the Eland (pictured) was to be shot within the next few days. His carcass would be examined to see that he had not died of worms, poisoning etc. and then the meat would be fed to the guard dogs.

These were not the only  issues for this small reserve of only 400 hectares. Due to the inbreeding amongst the animals, the Eland were beginning to show signs of birth defects such as bent horns. Without the introduction of new males to strengthen the gene pool, the herd would not be healthy. However, as the animals were already overgrazing the area, it would mean, culling some of the animals or selling them to Game parks to finance and make space for more animals. This would ultimately mean they would become cannon fodder for the hunters. The overgrazing also meant that much of the grass was of inferior nutrient value and this would affect the future health of the herds. Tough decisions will have to be made at Hoogland soon to maintain this little piece of paradise for humans,  as well as for its wild animals.  



A malnourished old Eland at Hooghland no longer able to graze effectively, which a predator would have taken out already.
At Hooghland, with no predators, he is still alive but not very healthy.





June 10th Tuesday

Still waiting to do the Air Law examination.  The problem has been with difficulty getting registered for the web based exam.  Apparently, because mine is a special case, the current system has difficulty with it, and the database owner is in Australia at the moment and not reachable.  This is one of the difficulties with outsourcing and the mania for privatization these days.  I can't believe the CAA doesn't own their own database!  Will need to get the exam done today, as I am staying with Paul Dutton, an ex wildlife ranger who needs to head off soon to do an aerial count of Dugongs in Mozambique.  Paul has very kindly put up with me for the past few days, but he now needs to get lots of stuff done before departing for Mozambique and with the best will in the world, I am getting in the way.  Hopefully can get the Air Law exam out of the way this afternoon, then a farewell dinner at a local fish restaurant and I can head off back to Jo'berg to pick up Annie tomorrow. 

UPDATE :  Finally got the login and password for the exam today.  The enforced wait at least gave me time to hit the books.  Most of the exam was similar to the UK Air Law, so a lot of the answers I knew off the top of my head.  A few tricky ones (as usual), but I must have guessed right as I got 88%.  Phew!, So now all done down south here and heading off to Jo'berg tomorrow morning.

June 8th Sunday

Did the flying test today for the LSA license.  Pretty windy and a bit bumpy so it made it difficult to fly accurately.  (That's my excuse anyway).  Did all the usual things, stalls, steep turns, precautionary landing, forced landing and some circuits.  I never enjoy tests, (even with a friendly instructor).  I am always afraid of doing something really stupid which will cause me to fail, so I was glad to get back on the ground with a pass.  The good news is that after discussing with the powers that be in the SA CAA, they will give me credit for all the hours I have done previously, so I don't have to do the full 15 hours normally required to upgrade to an LSA license from a microlight license.  That saves a huge amount of money, at least 1000 US Dollars, so a great relief.  Now all I have to do is the Air Law exam, but that is for another day!


Relaxing with the Cheetah after the Skills Test


June 6th Friday

Had the aircrew medical for the LSA license today, which I have to say was the longest, most drawn out medical that I have ever done, and that includes my original RAAF medical.  This was presaged, as I mentioned by a chest X Ray, eye test by an ophthalmologist and then a cholesterol check, oh and a urine test.  (Those are the only tests that I ever managed to pass at school..:-).  Initially, there was the hearing test, where I had to sit in a small booth and have small sounds fired at me.  (Fair enough, potentially deadly if you can't hear Air Traffic telling you to go around).  Then there was a lung function check, the methodology of which was pretty tricky to master, (got to get your inhales and exhales just right!), Once I got the hang of it, I was OK, but it seems to be more of a test of blowing technique than lung function.  Then came the ECG (Electrocardiogram) test.  Now both in the Air Force and for my commercial license, this was usually done in a lying down position but not here!  

They put me on a treadmill that was slowly wound up to 15 kph, for about 6 minutes.  No real problem if you routinely play 3 to 5 sets of tennis, but I can imagine some of the unfit pilot mates I have associated with in the past might have an issue with it.  The nurse kept asking me if I felt faint or dizzy yet, so it obviously caused some problems on occasion.  I bragged to her about my 5 sets of tennis.  Bad move, she was unimpressed and she responded by winding up the treadmill even faster!  After all that, I finally got to see the doc!  Frankly, there wasn't much left for him to do, the nurse having done her level best to wipe me out.  In the event, he was happy to give me a Class 2 certificate, which is sufficient for a Light Aircraft, not just a microlight.  To put all this into perspective, for exactly the same license, the Brits (one of the most safety conscious nations on Earth) only require a note from your doctor.  (he doesn't even need to examine you).  The French do not require a medical for a microlight at all!  So go figure.  However, on the positive side, it is worthwhile having a thorough medical every now and then, just to set one's mind at ease!  So, one down and just the flying stuff to go.

June 5th Thursday

A Unfortunately, as Dave does not have a Bathawk, I have to get check out on a Cheetah, which however, is the same class of aircraft as the Bathawk, so it all counts.  I have done two flights already, the usual aircraft handling stuff, stalls, steep turns etc and heaps of circuits.  Dave reckons I am good to go for the skills handling test.  He will be checking with the powers that be as to how much extra flying the rule book dictates.  Meanwhile, I have a medical scheduled tomorrow, for which I had to have a chest Xray today.  Christ knows why, as neither the Brits or the Aussies and certainly not the French have this requirement.  We are only looking at a pokey little two seater not an Airbus after all!  

June 3rd Tuesday

After having caught up with Dave Daniel from Comefly Microlights the previous night at Paul Dutton's place (Paul had very kindly offered to put up with me for a few days -though I was banned from the litchen), Dave had mentioned that a Bathawk was arriving at his airfield today.  Since the whole purpose of coming down south was to get checked out for the Bathawk, I was keen to see one in the flesh, so I was out at the airfield by 9.30 for the arrival.  However, as usual, things don't quite go to plan, and in the event, the aircraft arrived around 1130.  Still, it was brand new, and most impressive, having more than the usual quota of struts and stringers, giving it the solidity of the proverbial Aussie brick dunny.  However, the robustness did not quite extend to the battery as it had to be jump started for my flight!  Jeff the proud owner of the aircraft which had barely done 20 hours kindly offered to take me for a quick spin around the airfield.


Bugger!  Flat battery!


Once the engine was started we were off!

June 1st : Sunday

Arrived in Jo'berg at 8 am in a Lufthansa A380.  My first time in an aircraft that big.  Very comfortable though, even in steerage class.  Usual melee on arrival, so took a while to get through immigration, but strapped into the rental car by 1100, and headed off towards Durban.  Chose a Fiat 500 this time over the VW Polo which I had last time.  Still very cheap, around 10 Euros a day.  Gorgeous day at around 20 deg, but I was feeling a bit tired after the overnight flight.  Not the least because there was a rather noisy child in the next row who wouldn't settle, so kept me awake most of the night.  Hence, I decided to break the trip to Durban by stopping overnight at Van Reenen, roughly 300 k's from Salt Rock, my ultimate destination.  The pub there is called the Green Lantern (http://www.greenlantern.co.za/), and is a very pleasant watering hole.  Here are a couple of customers waiting for the bar to open:


Two customers waiting for opening time

Once the door was open, they wasted no time in heading for the bar!


Ahhh!  That's better!












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